Here is an exercise for anybody who wants to play with anagrams. The original poem line is “begin it where warm waters halt.” Try and find an anagram for that line, given the context of the following story. Don’t worry about punctuation. If you get it correct, I think you may also learn the key word.
Back in 2018 I took vacation to London to see some of the many museums that I hadn’t yet visited. One of those places was the Imperial War Museum and they had a special area reserved for displaying the medals and short biographies of many of the Victoria Cross medal recipients.
Philip Neame was born 12 December, 1888 in southeast England when Jack the Ripper was terrorizing east London .
Neame joined the Royal Engineers in 1908 and found himself in the French trenches during WWI. He set about improvising hand grenades from jam jars, scrap metal and gun cotton.
He received the Victoria Cross, among other honours, for single-handedly fending off a German counter-attack with field-improvised grenades in 1914.
He won an Olympic gold medal in 1924 for a sharp-shooting-on-the-move event called the Running Deer. The Olympic medal was not in the display cabinet but there were seventeen other medals in addition to the Victoria Cross packed in there.
In February of 1940, Philip was posted to Egypt and Trans-Jordan as a high-ranking division commander. The Suez Canal was a very strategic British asset, being the main trade route to its imperial possession India. The Red Sea is tropical but the Mediterranean is several degrees colder.
Things were going well for the Allies in North Africa until Marshal Erwin Rommel, the “Desert Fox,” arrived at Tripoli, Libya, in February of 1941 with two tank divisions.
Unfortunately for Philip, he was one of three generals among thousands of his men in the armoured division and Australian division all captured in Libya by Rommel’s Deutsches Afrika Korps (DAK) in April, 1941. The actual German commander who captured them was Gerhard von Schwerin. The other two captured generals were John Combe and Richard O’Connor.
The three captured British generals were each in their several armoured command vehicle, the AEC (Associated Equipment Company) “Dorchester,” nicknamed after the famous Dorchester Hotel in London because they were so capacious and comfortable. Marshal Rommel liked those vehicles so much he used them for himself and his own staff. The Germans renamed those armoured beasts DAK “Mammoth”. The fox was dressed like the hound.
Incarcerated in Italy near Florence, the British generals spent seven months constructing an escape tunnel along with their new prison friends Brigadiers James Hargest and Reginald Miles of New Zealand, and Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart, who also had a Victoria Cross medal from action in 1916 France.
The two New Zealanders made it safely to Switzerland, but the four Britons were all recaptured within a fortnight and reunited in their prison at Castello di Vincigliata near Florence with a month-long solitary penalty.
Erwin Rommel’s final North African offensive had failed only a few weeks earlier in March, 1943, even with the addition of new Tiger tanks of the 501 Panzer Division joining in November, 1942. Rommel was reassigned to Greece and then France.
Incredibly in August, 1943, Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart was escorted from prison to Rome on the orders of the Italian King and Prime Minister to be the messenger to Britain concerning Italy’s desire for an armistice with the Allies.
The September 3, 1943 Italian Armistice lead to Neame’s release into the Nazi-held countryside with companions Combe, O’Connor and Marshal Owen Boyd. They made their way just over a hundred miles to the coast near Rimini. Combe joined the local Libero partisans while the rest hired a boat making it to Allied-occupied territory at Termoli in December, 1943.
Combe made it back to Britain in May, 1944. That same month Erwin Rommel joined the resistance against Hitler, which failed in July and sealed his fate. He accepted the offer of suicide to spare his family.
Sadly, Marshal Boyd died from a heart attack in August, 1944, at least at home in London.
Gerhard von Schwerin went on to survive Stalingrad with great honours and then Aachen with heroism by trying to spare the civilians and architecture of that immensely important historic town. He was later captured in Italy by the British forces in April, 1945 and released two years later after the war.
Philip Neame was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Guernsey in August 1945 and knighted in 1946, among many other honours.
Nobody knows what happened to the three DAK Mammoths but they were probably abandoned somewhere out in the Sahara Desert, broke down and no fuel.